Hitting the ground running in September 2023 – Setting priorities for Y13 as a Post-16 Leader in England

27th September 2023

By John Philip, Alps Senior Education Consultant

If you are a senior leader in a school or college, you will be urgently reviewing your 2023 examination results. Now that the Autumn Term is underway, here are some high-level reflections from Alps on setting Post-16 priorities for your Year 13 students.


Understand your context: raw attainment

This year, A level results in England have been brought back in line with the results in 2019. Table 1 shows the high-level changes in results performance over the past 4 covid-impacted years. Understanding this context is vital when looking at your results this year.

We were told, and all anticipated, that our results would be lower this year compared to last, and this has happened. However, we can also see now in Table 1 that at bands A*-D and A*-E the percentage of grades achieved in 2023 are lower even than pre-covid results in 2019. In addition, the fall in comparative performance in England was far steeper than elsewhere in the UK, where results were set midway between 2019 and 2022 to transition back towards pre-pandemic standards. Table 2 shows the comparative results:

We were told, and all anticipated, that our results would be lower this year compared to last, and this has happened. However, we can also see now in Table 1 that at 9-3 and below, results in 2023 were awarded slightly lower than in 2019.

In addition, the fall in comparative performance in England was far steeper than in Northern Ireland but higher than in Wales, where A*-G results were set at a midway point between 2019 and 2022. Table 2 shows the comparative results:

So how does your own school or college’s performance compare with these national and regional figures?


Understand your context: Value-added

Value-added systems measure progress against a standardised starting point. For A level outcomes, the starting point for the most popular progress tracking systems in England is an average GCSE score. Measuring progress is a fairer and more aspirational view of performance than reviewing raw attainment alone. By looking at a value-added analysis of results, you can see how students with the same starting score compare in their outcomes, both by student and by subject, against set benchmarks.


The benchmarks

During ‘normal’ times, Alps uses the full national DfE dataset to create benchmarks against which schools and colleges can compare their performance. The DfE has not released data on which to create benchmarks since 2019, due to Covid, so the latest National Benchmark is from 2019. This year, as we did last year, Alps is offering an additional current client-based benchmark against which to evaluate your value-added performance. Alps users can simply choose in the Alps Connect platform which benchmark you want to view your results against, the 2019 DfE benchmarks or the 2023 Alps client benchmarks.


The practical implications of which benchmark to use

On Results Day, your Alps Connect analysis was calculated against benchmarks created from the 2019 DfE data. This was the most appropriate benchmark because we knew that 2023 results were being brought back by Ofqual to 2019 standards.

However, using the 2019 DfE benchmark is imperfect – students in the 2023 cohort achieved GCSEs through Teacher Assessed Grades (“TAGs”) not examinations and most schools and colleges, therefore, had higher average Prior Attainment (“PA”) scores for this cohort than they would for the same students in 2019. Table 4 compares the average PA score across the past three years, based on Alps’ client data.

The impact of this was that for those students who have just taken their A levels, a far higher percentage were in the higher PA bands than was the case in 2019 (who were then expected to achieve higher grades at A level). From the Alps client-base data we can see the dramatic shift, where 38% of these students were in the highest two PA bands compared to 24% in 2019.

The result is that the national DfE 2019 benchmark required a proportion of students to achieve higher results at the 75th percentile in 2023 than, on average, they were able to achieve.

Therefore, at the end of August, Alps released an alternative benchmark based on 2023 client results’ data from
our English schools and colleges. This allows schools and colleges to compare relative performance against the performance of their peers, taking into account the impact of using TAGs as the input score.

So, the new questions for leaders this year are: How did your school or college perform against these two benchmarks, and which one are you using to review performance and establish priorities for the coming year?


Key questions and suggestions for this time of year

When asked by colleagues in schools and colleges, I recommend that you set priorities based on your school or college’s performance in 2023.

Key questions should include:
1. What strategic priorities emerge from your raw results?
2. What strategic priorities emerge from your (2023 benchmark) value-added? For example, in your Alps analysis you will be able to see trends over time, has a subject performed worse or better over time than expected? Are there any big subjects causing concern? Are there any poor performing small subjects that need to be discontinued?
3. Was the performance of any significant student group concerning? For example, by prior attainment, by gender or ethnic group.
4. Which subjects performed best and least well in 2023?
5. Which subjects predicted final grades most or least accurately in 2023?
6. Which subjects had inconsistent performance at teaching set level?

Using the answers to these questions, the next big question emerges: What are you doing right now, as a result of your analysis, to try to consolidate strengths and eradicate weaknesses in 2024?


Setting priorities based on your new Y13’s end of Y12 data

Your new Y13 cohort, who achieved average GCSE scores via higher-than-normal GCSE results in 2022, are very likely to have a higher average GCSE score than is typical for your school or college pre-covid.

When working with schools, key questions I would be asking include:
1. What strategic ‘data’ priorities had already emerged before the end of the Summer Term?
2. What priorities relating to attendance or attitude to learning or mental health etc were a significant issue during Y12?
3. Which other priorities are now in place because of any disappointing surprises in terms of 2023 results?


Y13 – My 7 Top Tips at this time of year

The academic year often begins with in-depth evaluation of results in Raising Standards meetings with subject leads. Perhaps in September 2023 these meetings need a focus on current Y13, where they appear to be based on Y12 assessment, and how best to move forwards effectively.

Top Tip 1: In every year, some students may have either left school or college in the summer, or dropped or switched a subject for Y13 or gone back to Y12. At Alps, we suggest uploading a Monitoring Point Zero (MPZ) at the start of Y13. Essentially this is your final Y12 assessment data but edited to only include students now in Y13 and only showing grades in subjects they are studying in Y13. Sets / teachers should also be adjusted so teachers can see
their Y13 set’s baseline based on end of Y12 performance.

Top Tip 2: As always, there is much that we do not yet know and will have little ability to control. I recommend that you prioritise those things you can control, such as the quality of teaching and learning, the quality of guidance and support, and the quality of your leadership at all levels.

Top Tip 3: Create a realistic assessment timetable with subject leads to enable students to practice and master the skills required in examinations.

Top Tip 4: Use Alps Connect (or your alternative system) effectively throughout the year to help identify subjects, sets, student groups and students for support (& praise). Note for Alps users, if your skill at using the platform is rusty or you want more practical detail, we have a lot of support. Visit our Knowledge Base for our new Explorer series, a set of mini-videos on using Alps to best effect, and join our Champions Webinar programme, where I, or
another of our educational experts, look at the pressing focus for each term, the key questions, latest updates and suggestions on how to use Alps to support you. You can also book in a free health check or you can always call the office to speak to one of the team about additional support we can offer.

Top Tip 5: I recommend a sharp focus on the subjects that are taken by larger cohorts of students, as these subjects will have the most significant impact on this cohort’s outcomes, their destinations and your value-added.

Top Tip 6: Do all you can to be relentlessly positive both with your students and their teachers – at the start of the year and throughout.

Top Tip 7: Your top priority must involve putting the students’ needs and interests first, aiming for each to reach their potential and, perhaps crucially, to achieve positive post-18 pathways (again, for Alps users, check out our Champions resources on our Knowledge Base for practical ways to use Alps to help to do this).


Setting Targets based on Alps MEGs for Y13

At Alps we know that timely, transparent and appropriate Target Setting is vital. How to set the right targets this year involves understanding the unique complex situation we are in. Using the 2023 results to create benchmarks for target setting creates an issue. In 2023 the abnormally high percentage of students in higher Alps bands means that the benchmark based on Alps 2023 client data effectively depresses the target points required to achieve the top
75th percentile compared to the DfE 2019 data.

Our analysis shows that basing target-setting on the 2023 cohort data would lower Minimum Expected Grades “MEGs” for the new Y13 students, especially those in the top two PA bands. Table 5 is an extract of the top two PA bands from the Alps Prior Attainment tables, showing how the points and resulting MEGs differ depending on which data set is used.

We can see the difference in points expectations between the two. Also, remember it is very likely that students will have already been set target grades based on MEGs at the start of Y12.


Tracking Y13 in Connect during 2023-24

During 2023-24, I will be recommending to my schools to use the 2019 DfE national data set to track progress against, as it seems certain that 2024 results in England will be set to this standard.

Alps users do have the option to use our 2023 client data set for tracking and monitoring as well, you just need to be aware that these will be based on the higher prior attainment nationally in 2023.

Ultimately, it will be up to each school or college to select the benchmark you feel is most appropriate for you. This might be based on whether your new Y13’s Prior Attainment is more like it was in 2019 or 2023. It might also depend on having a preference for keeping aspirations high and accepting the probability that your value-added mid-year and on Results Day data may under-predict what your value-added will be when Alps releases our 2024 client data benchmark.

Rest assured that after Results’ Day in 2024, Alps will analyse client data as early as possible and make analysis based on the actual 2024 results available to our schools and colleges.


A reminder – the 2024 Performance Tables.

On a final note, Post-16 Value-Added has not been measured or published in Performance Tables for the 2022 or 2023 Post-16 cohorts because their prior attainment was based on teacher assessment (CAGs and TAGs). For these two years the Performance Tables have only focused on raw attainment – the average A Level grade and the average Applied General grade. Value-added progress will return as a headline measure in the 2024 Performance Tables, so I would suggest using it in your monitoring and tracking this year as it is now again vital for all schools and colleges.


About the author: John Philip

John started working with Alps in 2008, while he was working at Little Heath Comprehensive School. At Little Heath, John used
Alps to achieve top 2% performance in value-added terms. He also worked with schools regionally and nationally through the
Raising Achievement Partnership Programme. Since leaving Little Heath in 2010, John additionally works as an associate for
22 secondary schools through PiXL.

This blog is a companion piece to our Alps webinar ‘Hitting the Ground Running: KS5 England’ which goes out live at 3:30pm on Monday 2nd October. This webinar will demonstrate how to use Alps Connect most effectively when tracking progress.

For Alps users – to register go to your Connect Homepage and click on “Book your Webinar space” for a full list of our free Champions Webinars.
If you are not an Alps user and would like more information about how we can support you, please contact us at [email protected] to speak to one of our friendly team.




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